Tangible Schizophrenia


Brotherhood III: October

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: PG
Pairing: Arthur/Lancelot, Arthur/Tristan.
Feedback: Good lines, bad ones, etc.
Disclaimer: Versions started with the movie, not me.
Notes: Pre-movie. Whole poem found here.
Summary: Lancelot is not blind. Neither is Tristan.


“I’ve listened: and all the sounds I heard
Were music,--wind, and stream, and bird.
With youth who sang from hill to hill
I’ve listened; my heart is hungry still.”
--“Alone,” Siegfried Sassoon.

* * *

Chewing his lip, Gawain leaned over the edge of the roof and squinted at the little figure restlessly pacing out the length of the Wall’s ramparts. His hand groped behind him and plucked at Tristan’s wrist, then realized its mistake and detoured sideways to finally find the apples they were sharing.

“He’s still going to be there at dusk. They aren’t due in till late.” It was sunny yet, but the air had an edge to it and the sky a grey smear near the horizon that told Tristan the night was going to be less than friendly. If Lancelot was planning to spend the whole evening up there, he’d do well to remember his commonsense. Then again, his very presence on the Wall would seem to show that that particular line of thinking had already dropped out of his head.

Crunching sounds. Gawain mashed out some query, then shot Tristan an apologetic glance and wiped the juice off the fluff on his chin, which was just beginning to turn into a respectable beard. “How do you know Lancelot won’t leave? Does he do this often?”

“No. But he’s not hard to predict.” And that deviation in behavior was the only reason Tristan was bothering to keep an eye on the other man right now. It made him wonder if Lancelot and Arthur had gotten into another disagreement before Arthur had gone out with the skirmishing party; in that case, Lancelot was probably feeling some irritating mix of regret and insecurity that he wanted to assuage as soon as possible.

Over the apple, Gawain’s eyes regarded Tristan with frank suspicion. “I didn’t know you were that bothered about him, to take notice of what he does and doesn’t do. I always thought Lancelot did as he pleased, and only Arthur ever has an inkling of what that is.”

So Tristan had made a study of that pair. It was only reasonable, given that whatever affected Arthur’s moods had some influence on how he handled other matters, and unfortunately, Lancelot did have a significant effect on Arthur. Only a blind or stupid man would neglect to take that into account as well as God, Rome, and the Church. And only Lancelot would manage to make himself equal to the other three, but find that so unsatisfactory a position that he would constantly pester Arthur into low-voiced, hard-faced discussions.

The sound of snapping fingers brought Tristan sharply back to Gawain, who had just finished his apple. He was staring even harder at Tristan in a way that recalled Tristan’s hawk. “If what I’m thinking turns out to be true, then you can never tease me about Galahad again.”

Equally straightfaced, Tristan rolled his fingers around the nearest apple and swept off a few flecks of dirt with his thumb. “I’m not infatuated with Lancelot.”

Gawain choked. And choked, to the point that Tristan leaned over and was about to intervene. But at the last minute, the other man pushed him back and swallowed the abusive piece of food, pained grimace stretching his face like badly-tanned leather.

Tristan sat back, bit off a chunk of fruit, and let himself grin.

Eventually, Gawain recovered speech. “I wasn’t even thinking—I never, ever wanted to think about that. You bastard.”

“Then what were you thinking of?” Tristan idly asking, rolling over to stare at the sky. It was just beginning to darken and slip towards the purple of twilight, but there were hours yet. Arthur most likely had just regathered the knights and was starting out on the road for the garrison, so before he finally arrived, evening meal and probably two changes of guard would have passed.

From the other man’s corner came a strained, wavering kind of silence Tristan recognized as the hesitation before the charge. But that didn’t come till Gawain had tossed his core over the side and sucked his fingers clean, and even then, he had a few false starts before he took in a deep breath and spoke. “You’re not watching—well, maybe you are watching Lancelot. But it’s not because of him. What the fuck are you doing with Arthur?”

When speaking of predictability, Tristan clearly had made some miscalculations. At the moment, he was merely imitating Gawain’s earlier troubles in a brute-force attempt to get his bite of apple down the right way.

Tolerance and irked amusement mingled on Gawain’s face as he leaned over, giving Tristan a solid thump on the back that helped a little. “Honestly, Tristan. I doubt anyone else has noticed, but they don’t share a room with you. And if you’re going to hide things, you shouldn’t use my old boots.”

“Why were you looking in those? You outgrew them two months ago,” Tristan grumbled, half-burying his face in his arms. He distracted himself from the burning in his cheeks and his throat by carefully nibbling at what remained of his apple.

Gawain unexpectedly colored, then hunched in on himself and glowered. “They fit Galahad now, and it’s easier for him to borrow my old ones than to pry them from the supplies officer. What are you doing with Arthur’s dagger? Which is broken, by the way.”

“I noticed. He tossed it out, but the hilt’s still good. I was going to reuse that.” The fruit ran out before Tristan’s face cooled, so he was forced to sit up in order to get rid of the core. Some movement at the gate caught his eye, but closer inspection showed that it was only Lancelot debating some guard, probably about his right to be up there. “Are you waiting?”

“Not now, I’m not,” Gawain snorted, pulling his knees up so he could rest his chin on them. The twist of his mouth was sour and his eyes were faintly disappointed. But then he rolled his eyes and relaxed, giving Tristan a resigned but lively smile. “He can have the boots, but I’m not his mother. Or his wife. And there are other horses in the field.”

Which was a good thing, in Tristan’s opinion. He liked Gawain, and not only because the other man had taken Tristan’s deliberate obtrusiveness as a challenge towards closer acquaintance, and not a deterrent. Galahad might turn out well, might not, but in any case, he was still a little too young for Gawain to be taking him that seriously.

It was a curiosity, and occasionally an irritant, that Tristan and Gawain knew enough of each other to be comfortable, yet had never had that develop into anything more. Sometimes Tristan thought about how much easier it would have been if Gawain had been the one to draw his eye, and then he always had to knead teeth into his lip so he wouldn’t grow too angry with himself. A man was who he was, and never mind whether that was convenient or not, that couldn’t be changed any more than a hawk could change what kind of meat it liked best.

And after all, Tristan had never been able to stay in comfort for very long. He liked the woods because they were never quite still and always holding something back, with their dark shapes darting near his feet like so many undiscovered secrets and their lofty crowns of green leaning down like a compassionate hand.

“You know, you’ve changed,” Gawain suddenly said, the seriousness back in his eyes. He sat up and was on the point of saying “Ar—” when from the gate came a loud burst of noise. Then they were both on their feet and hurrying, but they arrived only in time to catch a bloody, beaten Alymere stumbling off his horse.

“You know,” said the older knight, eyes glazed and lip dripping blood. “You know…

No, Tristan didn’t, but as he turned he glimpsed Lancelot’s back disappearing around a corner. A quick tap on Gawain’s shoulder was all he had time for before he went after the other man; Tristan hoped it would be enough, and that Gawain wouldn’t be too upset at being left with a battle-shocked knight.

For all his vaunted skills, Tristan soon lost Lancelot in the masses of people that were suddenly thronging the byways and avenues of the garrison. He slipped into a corner and considered the priorities of where Arthur might be, given what might have happened, then headed for the sick wards.

But there they said Arthur was up with the commandant, and not likely to get out soon. Tristan momentarily thought about how easy the wall leading to the commandant’s window would be to climb, then shook his head and made for some knights he recognized. Bedivere was delirious and thrashing out Sarmatian curses, while the surgeon attending him swore back in Latin. When an opening came, Tristan slipped in and grabbed Bedivere’s arm, pinning it to the table so the surgeon could stitch the oozing wound scoring the man’s bicep.

By the time Tristan made his way out of the sick wards, he had dried blood stiffening his hair, the cloying stench of decay clotting in the back of his throat, and a fairly good idea of what had happened. It was dark as pitch, but the air smelled electric and wet and fresh, so Tristan took as many deep breaths as he could squeeze in on his way to the chapel.

Lancelot saw him coming, but made no move to greet him. Instead, the other man curled himself tighter against the side of the doorway, one hand hanging limp over his knee. As Tristan approached, Lancelot tilted his head back so his eyes slitted to thoughtfully ironic. “You know, it took me days to make myself believe it, once I figured out what was going on.”

Tristan didn’t bother dissembling. Despite a quick change of topic, he hadn’t been able to shake Gawain off the same realization, and Lancelot was far more intuitive when it came to such things. “Is he praying?”

“And probably weeping, damn him.” The other man removed his gaze from Tristan just long enough to drive his bootheel into the stone opposite him. He left a scuff-mark on the doorway. “The door’s locked. What, you’d like to try your hand at coaxing him out?”

“No.” That was a sincere answer; Tristan had no desire to make a fool of himself, and he knew perfectly well that if Arthur wouldn’t listen to Lancelot, then he had no chance. He hadn’t even been able to track Arthur through the garrison.

Tristan took a moment to make his nails uncurl from his palms.

An eyebrow arched, and Lancelot abruptly swiveled to plant both his feet on the ground. In doing so he misjudged distances and caught his boot on the step, but he recovered almost instantly from the near upset. “Of all the competitors I thought I’d have, I never expected to include one of us.”

“If you think there’s competition, then you’re the fool. But tomorrow I’d rather not hear a graveside speech for Cai that’s nothing but Arthur blaming himself, so curb your tongue.” Tristan snapped, pivoting sharply on his heel. His nails had re-gouged themselves in his palm, but he couldn’t currently feel the pain so he didn’t bother with extracting them.

Behind him, Lancelot was tumbling into a standing position. “You think I’d hurt—”

Hinges squealed, slashing his statement in two. Tristan, however, was already too far down the path to see the halves fall—though he could still hear.

“Lancelot? What’s…was that Tristan? What are you—he—what were you two doing?”

“Nothing. You’ll notice I didn’t kill him.” There was a two-headed jibe in Lancelot’s words, but by now Tristan simply didn’t care. “Arthur…you look like you haven’t eaten in days—no, don’t even try that excuse. You only pray when you run out of things to keep yourself busy with, and anyway, I’m hungry. Come on.”

And that was the last Tristan heard of them. Once out of earshot, he wandered near the stables before remembering that he’d moved his hawk to the barracks. He was heading that way when Gawain finally caught up with him.

“Complete mess, I heard. Ambush—no one can believe Arthur got them all out except Cai. And even there he brought the body back,” Gawain offered, falling in step.

“If he hadn’t, the Woads would have lashed it to a tree and gutted it for him to find tomorrow.” It was stupid, really—Tristan had watched long enough to know where Arthur would always look first. And even as things were, Arthur was far more generous with his time and companionship than he had to be. What Tristan already had should be enough, just as what he had with Gawain satisfied them both. With Gawain, anything more would have overburdened things and caused a collapse.

Except trying to make this comparison was like trying to equate the streams he crossed daily with his still-vivid memory of the ocean. In other words, it was stupid.

“You could scare bears with that kind of face.” Gawain nudged Tristan down a turn of the path, which Tristan only now realized was leading to the tavern. Before he could alter their direction, Gawain had thrown an arm over his shoulders and had him in a casually firm hold. “Come on. You need a drink, and I need advice on how to hunt bedmates.”

For a moment, Tristan was certain he’d heard wrong. “From me?”

“Well, you can at least tell me if they’re really just being polite and trying to stare over my shoulder at Dagonet or Percival.” The other man’s tone was light, but his expression was anxious and expectant as he looked at Tristan.

Stupid, hopeless and still not without anything—if that was no kind of triumph, then it was no kind of defeat, either. Tristan blinked back the soreness at the corner of his eyes, swallowed the bitterness, and pretended he didn’t know it’d only rise again. And he laughed, and assented to Gawain’s plan.


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